All about Screen Time and Digital Adoption by Seniors

We often discuss the time Millennials and Generation Z spend watching screens. However, it turns out young people aren’t the demographic who spend the most time this way. It turns out that screen time is even higher -and way higher – for America’s elderly.

Everyone is spending more time on their phones, computers and whatever streaming device they use. That’s not news. But what is new (at least to me) is that, according to Nielsen data published by The Economist, seniors are the ones who spend a larger portion of their days with their eyes pointed at devices. The data shows that Americans aged 65 and over, spend nearly 10 hours per day in front of screens. That’s 12% more than Americans between the ages of 35 and 49 and a considerable one-third more usage than people 18 to 34 (the youngest cohort for whom Nielsen has data).

The findings fall in line with another recent survey published by Pew Research that found older Americans are spending as much as half of their leisure time in front of screens (what is known as “screen time”).

What is Screen Time?

So what exactly is screen time? Basically, Screen time is the amount of time spent using a device with a screen such as a smartphone, computer, television, or video game console.

According to the All Connect website, Pew classifies screen time as “a leisure activity, as opposed to time spent eating, doing paid work, completing housework, sleeping or engaging in acts of personal care like grooming or doctor’s visits”.

Below are somo of the screen time activities that qualified as recreational time spent:

  • Watching TV, videos, and movies
  • Checking personal email
  • Browsing the internet
  • Using social media or the computer, tablet, or other electronic devices

How Seniors Spend their Time with Screen?

The adoption of smartphones, computers, and the internet broadly is up among the elderly —73% of people 65 and older use the internet in 2018, compared to just 14% in 2000, according to Pew Research. And this percentage keeps growing every day.

Nielsen found that smartphone use among the elderly is up more than seven times what it was just four years ago (by comparison, Millennials have increased their time with smartphones by less than one hour per day during the same time period).

Here’s what seniors were doing with their screen time in 2019:

  • Researching and browsing
  • Banking and bill pay
  • Shopping
  • Utilizing smart home technology
  • Browsing news and social media

Digital Adoption by Seniors

Seniors Using Cell Phones and Smart Phones

Although seniors may find difficulties in the use of smartphones, such as financial limitations, limited sight, lack of knowledge and even lack of interest in learning “new” things, older adults are also using smartphones at higher rates than were first reported a few years ago.

In fact, according to Age In Place website, a study from the Pew Research Center in 2019 found that among seniors ages 65 and above, about 85% owned a cell phone. Of those seniors, 46% used a smartphone and 40% used a regular cell phone.

Smartphones can be a great device for the elderly, and seniors are have recognized this and have adopted the new device. With a smartphone it is easier to be connected, and because it’s small and lightweight, it’s easy to stay connected everywhere.

Seniors Using Tablets

While we tend to think about using tablet devices in classrooms or other learning environments involving children and youth, there is another demographic that has realized how incredibly helpful tablets can be in their lives — seniors.

In fact, while just 18% of seniors owned a smartphone, about 27% of U.S. adults age 65 or older own a tablet or e-reader device, according to Pew’s report on seniors’ digital habits from 2014. These numbers are now much higher. As mentioned before, the percentage of older adults that own a smartphone 5 years later was 46%, and the ones with tablets followed the same trend.

Not only it’s easier to read on a tablet than on a smartphone. Comparable to desktop computers (or even laptops), tablets are much lighter and more portable, and no mouse is required, and also they also offer a wide range of other benefits that are particularly helpful to those who are aging.

Seniors Using Regular TVs and Smart TVs

But the biggest contributor to screen time among older Americans is still the big old television.

According to Nielsen, elderly people spend on average seven and a half hours per day with their televisions. A recent evaluation of leisure time shows that much of the time seniors used to spend on reading and socializing is now spent watching TV.

A significant chunk of that time, it should be noted, is simply having the TV playing in the background while they do other things. But regardless if their eyes are directly on the display or simply glancing at it between other activities, America’s elderly are spending a significant amount of time watch TV and interacting with other screens.

And it’s not any TV, we are talking here about smart TVs as well. According to, the age group of Smart TV owners’ percentages is quite similar, and they take advantage of the internet connection of their TV. In a nutshell, the penetration of Smart TV is increasing, and also older adults 50 years old and up can use its features very well (88% use the many features that a smart TV has to offer).

Tech Devices Purchased by Seniors in 2019

Older Americans are increasingly drawn to new technology, according to a new AARP national survey, but they often do not take full advantage of their devices, and they are concerned about privacy issues online.

In the past year, 51% of older Americans say they bought some tech devices.

The top purchases:

  • smartphone (23%)
  • computer or laptop (12%)
  • smart television (11%)
  • tablet (10%)
  • smart home technology or device (12%)
  • wearable device (7%)

Why is Screen Time Increasing Among Seniors?

Increase in screen time coincides with an increase in digital adoption by seniors.

The increase in senior screen time since 2000 can largely be attributed to the unique way older adults spend their days and the steady adoption of technology in this same age group.

Studies have shown that single adults ages 60 and older spend more than half of their daily waking hours alone (over 10 hours). And being alone has a direct impact on the use of screen time. After all, what else to do to entertain themselves? As mentioned before, many seniors even leave the screen on while doing other activities. For those living with a spouse, the screen time tends to be under five hours each day.

Maybe seniors nowadays are getting more adapted to new technologies, or these new technologies have just become more accessible, cheaper and more user-friendly. We don’t know for sure. What we do know is that seniors’ screen time is increasing and it has many benefits but also sidekicks to it.

Benefits of Technology for Seniors

Recently, many researchers have tried to explain the benefits of technology for older adults. Some researchers state that the development of new technology holds significant promise for increasing the quality of life in old age. Technology increases seniors’ connectivity with family and friends, and with all that it’s happening in the world, helping them fight possible loneliness and depression.

Others proposed that the use of technology can improve the quality of life at home and increase independence for older adults. When it comes to Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease patients, for intance, both information and communication technology have the potential to help them to be more independent.

And numerous studies have explored the potential role of technology to help motivate older adults to adopt a healthy lifestyle. The thing is that, by collecting and providing appropriate information, new technologies can assist individuals to make lifestyle decisions that may help in the treatment and management of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and even certain cancers.

There are many other benefits we can think of, these are just some examples. Now that we’ve collected and shared all this information with you, we hope you are more aware about the screen time trend, and that you will give some tech devices a try (with moderation)!

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  1. Hey Cecilia, I really appreciate all of these resources you have provided for seniors hoping to adopt technology into their daily lives. I’m a college student writing an essay about the generational gap in technology and why older folks tend to struggle to get connected. I think its an especially important topic now that so much communication is done strictly over the Internet (Zoom calls!) Do you think I could ask you a few questions over email to use in my paper? I wasn’t able to find a direct contact you link, so I decided to comment! Thanks again!

    1. Author

      Hi Henry, thanks for reaching out! I really appreciate it. You can reach us by email: [email protected] We will be happy to help you out with your essay.

  2. Hey Cecilia, thank you for providing all of these resources for helping seniors adopt new technology into their lives! I’m a college student writing an essay about why seniors struggle to learn technology and why it can be helpful to them instead of just confusing. I think this topic is especially important right now since so much communication has moved to the internet thanks to COVID-19. Do you think I could email you a few questions to use in my paper? I couldn’t find a contact you link on your blog, so I just thought I’d comment! Thanks again!

    1. Author

      Sure! As we mentioned before, you can reach us by email: [email protected] Looking forward to hearing from you.

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